STOCKHOLM, Jan. 12 -- More than 700 German police officers raided dozens of mosques, apartments and small businesses across Germany on Wednesday in a bid to break up a loosely organized network of Islamic radicals, authorities said.
Counterterrorism officials and prosecutors said 22 people were arrested, most on suspicion of raising money for extremist causes and forging passports and other official documents. Investigators said there was no evidence that the network was planning any attacks and gave few details about its ideological goals or motives.
Unidentified men enter a hallway leading to a mosque in Frankfurt that was raided by German police targeting a network of Islamic radicals.
(Bernd Kammerer -- AP)
The sweep was part of an aggressive anti-terrorism strategy recently initiated by the German government, which faced heavy internal and external criticism for moving slowly in response to threats from Islamic radicals after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. The leaders of the Sept. 11 plot were part of an al Qaeda cell in Hamburg that had attracted the attention of German investigators before the hijackings but managed to keep its intentions secret.
German officials have estimated that there are about 3,000 Islamic extremists in the country, but until recently few faced the threat of arrest or punishment. That has changed in recent months with the adoption of anti-terrorism laws and stricter immigration controls that have enabled investigators to act preemptively.
Authorities said the 22 suspects arrested Wednesday came from several Arab countries, Germany and Bulgaria. Five were women.
Investigators said that many of the suspects had been under surveillance for months and that the network was centered in the towns of Ulm and New Ulm, which sit on opposite banks of the Danube River in southern Germany. Arrests and raids were also carried out in Frankfurt, Bonn, Duesseldorf and Freiburg.
"The success of this investigation shows once again how important our uncompromising strategy of attack is," said Heribert Rech, interior minister for the southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, which includes Ulm.
Officials said some of the suspects, who were not identified by name, had ties to Ansar al-Islam, a network that has organized attacks against U.S. troops and their allies in Iraq. Last month, German police said they broke up a plot by Ansar operatives to attack Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, during a visit to Berlin.
But German authorities also said the people arrested Wednesday were loosely organized and not affiliated with any particular group, describing the network as more of a criminal enterprise. "There may be some overlapping of individuals, but we are looking at this more from a logistical standpoint of criminal support," said Horst Haog, a spokesman for the Baden-Wuerttemberg police.
Smiley reported from Berlin.